On His Blindness

“On his Blindness” by John Milton John Milton was a great writer and one of the few who was recognized in his own time. His name stands out in the history of English literature mainly for his two works, Paradise Lost and Paradise regained. In 1651 Milton became blind, yet he continued to write and his daughters would take dictation. The poem On his Blindness, by John Milton is an Italian sonnet which addresses the Christian perspective of how to accept ones disabilities. The writer is effective in doing so, as he utilizes Biblical allusions, figurative language and colorful connotation.

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The date that Milton wrote the poem is uncertain, but 1955 is the year that is widely accepted. The poem “On his Blindness” is about a man’s acceptance of his disability. The form the poem takes is that of a sonnet. In the first eight lines, the speaker draws an extended allusion to the Biblical parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). In the parable, a man gives each servant talents (money) to manage for him according to their abilities before he goes on a trip. The servant who received five coins and the one who received two doubled their master’s money through wise investments.

However, the servant with only one talent buried it. When their master came back, he congratulated and promoted the first two servants and cast out the last, branding him lazy. The word “talent” has two possible meanings- it could mean money (one thousand dollars) or ones’ natural ability. It is understood that the speaker in the poem is blind. He makes reference to his lack of light, which is “spent” (gone); he resides in a “dark world” and his “light [is] denied”. At the time Milton wrote this poem, he was already blind.

The talent Milton possessed was his ability to write literature, especially poetry. He compares himself to the last servant who had only one talent. However, Milton declares that he did use his talent (it was “lodged” with him, yet it was still taken away. The writer’s use of diction that influenced the mood added to this religious poem. In line three, The writer claims it is “death to hide” ones talent, which is much more severe than the fate of the servant in the parable. the speaker also announces that his “soul is bent” the serve God. Milton also announces that he will give God his “true account”.

He stresses the word “true”, as if he is ready to defend himself if he is accused falsely of not serving his “Master”. In the next line, Milton laments that he does not want God to “chide” him. This adds to the atmosphere of self-pity. The speaker asks a question contrary to Christian reasoning in line eight- “Doth God exact day- labor, light denied? “. Through this statement, the speaker questions God’s judgment, saying that he is expected to serve him without his sight. However, the tone changes right before Patience addresses the speaker.

Milton uses the adjective “fondly”, which means foolish, to describe how he asked his question. The writer personifies Patience by capitalizing the name and having her speak. Patience tells him “God doth not need … man’s work or his own gifts… ” She brings to light that God is not in “need” of service from man and express that God gave him his “gift” (“talent”). Next, Patience gives the speaker some hope, informing him that who “best” handled his obstacles would serve God the “best”. Her use of the word “best” seems to provide a message of hope.

She informs the speaker that God has many servants and the people who wait for him serve him as well. She too expresses that he has many people to serve him at his “bidding speed”- as soon as he orders something it is done. These images create an image of God one is to be in awe of, as he is a mighty ruler and people are stationed everywhere just to do as God says. The final line of the poem- “They also serve who only stand and wait” is a famous one, and alludes to the parable of the Bridegroom- Matthew 25:1-13. “On his Blindness” was meant to be an inspirational poem for those who have disabilities.

The poem is successful in achieving its purpose, as the various methods employed by the writer makes on feel that one is not alone in ones situation. In the form of Patience, one is too given hope and a reason not to indulge in Self-pity. The language reveals the feelings of the writer and mirrors a common situation where people doubt God because they are in a negative situation. The role of Patience is that of a reminder- one can still serve God no matter the circumstances. Alongside these elements is Milton’s relation of human life to the Bible, which provided familiar allusions for the people who lived in his time.


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